I am usually one who believes if you need to tell someone you are valuable, you probably aren’t. However, I want to pile on with Heather Morse and others for legal media writers to stop using the term “non-lawyer” when describing legal professionals who work on the operations side of law firms. It’s just plain lazy writing, and you can do better.
Heather’s post, Husch Blackwell’s incoming CEO is a professional, not a “non-lawyer,” lays out the argument that there are lawyers in law firms, and there are professionals who are in the business of running a law firm. The old way of running these law firms usually meant that one or more of the law firm partners also ran operations. However, as firms grew, that method was challenged by a more traditional business structure of having those trained in management and business operations running the administrative structure of the firm, and letting the Partners set the strategic goals of the firm, and get back to the practice of law.
I get it. It’s an easy phrase that simplifies the wall between a licensed attorney who is practicing law, and an administrative professional who is handling the day-to-day operations of the firm. However, as Heather Morse puts it, it “does a disservice to all of the firms that are being run as businesses.” I’ll stress again, it’s also pretty lazy. Just read the title of the article that is invoking Heather and other legal industry professionals to call for a removal of this phrase. Please, read it out loud to yourself:
Now take a drink of coffee to wash that taste out of your mouth.
I’ve checked “non-lawyer” usage with other publications, like Bloomberg Law Big Law Business, and noticed that the term is typically only used when it is describing ownership by someone who is not a licensed attorney, or when advice or counsel is coming from someone who is an expert in the field, but not a licensed attorney. It can be done.
My request for all the legal industry writers out there is for you to take the phrase “non-lawyer” and throw it away. Be a little more creative when you announce a new CEO of a law firm who happens to be a business professional with vast experience. Focus on what he or she brings to the firm, rather than if the person can or cannot practice law.